Tag Archive | "accountancy"

HMRC to roll out new contractor accountant aid

This spring, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs will be rolling out a brand new pilot programme in the North East to make taxes easier for the self-employed.

HMRC recently announced the new scheme, which will run for seven months, with an eye towards giving contract workers face to face and telephone access to skilled and qualified accountancy experts that can help them stay on the right side of the taxman. The phone service is quite noteworthy because it will support several experts to meet with a taxpayer at the same time on one single call, even if the freelancer has a myriad of issues; no longer will a customer have to be transferred from one expert to another or wait in long phone queues, HMRC plans.

The revamped phone network is most definitely the star in HMRC’s tiara as far as their new scheme is concerned, but when there are issues that cannot be resolved by ringing up even the most skilled of experts, the tax authority also has plans to make in-person help available as well. In this way everyone should be able to get the help they need – theoretically anyway. I suppose we’ll have to wait to see how this pilot programme pans out before we can see this scheme rolled out across the UK.

Meanwhile, contractors living in the North East will have a nice new bit of help when it comes to their tax payments and such. Does anyone else think the North East is a bit of an odd place to run a pilot programme like this, though? I don’t know how many Northumbrian SMEs there are, but apparently there’s just enough for HMRC to get a good idea as to how a large-sale version of their new initiative will work. Seems a bit daft to me, but then again I’m not an overworked and underpaid HMRC employee so I suppose I should just keep my trap shut and let someone else with a bit more authority make the decisions around here.

Oh, who am I kidding? The taxman doesn’t have the best track record with good decisions. Still, I suppose we will have to reserve our judgment for at least a few months following the inception of this new pilot programme, regardless of how much we might want to take the piss out of HMRC. Not that they need any help in that department.

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Contractor accountant billings at 15 year high, REC says

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation say that job billings have just hit a 15 year high – and right at the top of the heap are accountancy positions.

But wait, there’s more – it turns out that pay rates for contractors are also on the up. Starting salaries are surging forwards once again, with the last high point – October of 2007 – becoming eclipsed. We’ve reached a new high water mark, ladies and gentlemen!

Of course, there’s not all good news when it comes to the revelation. Now, don’t get me wrong – these statistics are absolutely phenomenal! It means that anyone working in the accounting field as a contractor is absolutely in an enviable position, as demand is high for their services and there are no signs of this demand slowing down anytime soon at all, but once you draw the curtain back from the inner economic workings causing this sudden jump things get decidedly less rosy and a bit more bleak.

Yes, the figures do indeed say that the economy needs as many skilled and qualified accountants as it can get its hands on, and it’s willing to pay them handsomely. However, the truth is that this isn’t an indication that the economic recovery has been a full success and we’re just motoring along at a fast clip, building up our economy to pre-recession levels. On the contrary, much of the economic recovery efforts have been slow and sluggish and the only reason contractor accountants are needed so badly is because the skills shortage gripping the country is threatening what little economic recovery we’ve managed to accomplish!

There’s simply not enough workers to go around to support a more robust economic recovery, I’m afraid. That means the firms that need contractors of all stripes – not just accountants – are willing to pay a premium to entice one of the few workers capable of handling the complex processes these companies need to get done in order to stay afloat. If this shortage goes on for too long there simply won’t be enough temporary workers to go around and British firms will have to outsource overseas – and that means we’re likely to see demand for local workers sink like a stone. It’s only a matter of time, or at least I think so, which means you’d better prepare yourselves now!

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HMRC could be targeting Sanzar EBT operations

Watch out, contractors: if you used a Sanzar Solutions employee benefit trust administrated in the Isle of Man, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs may want you.

For what it’s worth, it’s never a good sign when the taxman wants to talk to you, as it usually ends up you coming out with more than a little less cash in your pocket. Well, HMRC has some quite pointed questions for any freelance worker that worked through Sanzar Solutions between the years of 2008 and 2011, particularly because some bad apples have purportedly using the EBT system to sidestep quite a bit of tax responsibility, particularly by receiving the majority of their pay in a loan that goes on to never be repaid or even written off.

What this did is lower a contractor’s tax liability by several orders of magnitude – a classic tax avoidance scheme – especially since the cash gets funneled through a foreign country. There are many places overseas known for such notorious behaviour – the Cayman Islands or, if you prefer your tax avoidance closer to home, places like the island of Jersey, and there’s certainly an international furore over this activity, though it certainly does seem a bit suspicious that no one seemed to care all that much prior to the Government falling on its face in an attempt to provide funding for all its discrete parts.

Well if all else fails, milk the taxpayer, right? Is it any wonder that HMRC has been encouraged by the Government to go after every man and woman in creation that might have engaged in tax avoidance sometime between now and the credit crunch back in 2008? Why aren’t Government officials going after the millions and billions of pounds lost to multinational tax avoidance, though – wouldn’t that be much more cost-effective than this ridiculous death-of-a-thousand-paper-cuts that the taxman’s pulling?

No, instead let’s go after the little guy, the self-employed contractor that can’t afford to employ an entire accountancy department to have them at their beck and call. That sounds like a brilliant bloody idea, doesn’t it? Amazon makes money hand over fist but let’s leave off the idea of going after them. Blimey if I don’t understand the mind of a Government minister; I suppose that’s a good thing when you get right down to it though, isn’t it? I don’t want to trade in my moral authority for a few extra quid by breaking the backs of small business owners.


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Unite in tax dodging row, tries to explain its shenanigans

Here’s one for the record books: it turns out public sector union Unite has been found to be skimming off the top when it comes to paying its fair share!

Actually it’s a bit worse than that, according to new research: apparently the union hasn’t paid even a single penny to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for two years in a row, despite the fact that it made some £5.78 million in investment income over that time. The revelation has left Conservatives up in arms; accusations have been flying steadily and Ed Miliband has been facing some withering fire from Bob Neil, Conservative Vice Chairman.

Of course, Unite paints a completely different picture altogether – one that has nothing to do with tax avoidance. Calling the Conservative-backed accountancy research nothing but a ‘sorry attempt’ to discredit the union, a Unite spokesperson said that the reason there was no corporation tax paid was because of the rather robust benefits the union offers its members – and that the cost of these benefits, which are borne by Unite and not the Government, have entitled it to an exemption in this way.

Well this is all well and good – and I’m sure there’s plenty of politically-motivated backstabbing going on between Labour and Tories alike – but somehow I’ll wager that the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle. For what it’s worth, there could very well be some glad-handing going on between the Exchequer and Unite right now, but I don’t know if it can really be categorised as tax avoidance no matter how badly the Conservatives want to do so.

It seems that cries of ‘tax avoidance’ or ‘tax evasion’ have become a rather easy way to derail a rational conversation and instead inject rhetoric and political debate. It’s a tactic that’s being used to distract us from the real issues that the Government refuses to address: no matter how much revenue HMRC might be missing out from sources such as Unite, something tells me that there’s shedloads more money being looked over that’s being funneled overseas thanks to multinationals that have been encouraged to make use of tax loopholes in return for setting up shop here in the UK. I know it sounds cynical and perhaps a bit too much like what one of those conspiracy theorist blokes would say, but let’s be serious here: how much tax revenue has the UK missed out on over the years that firms like Starbucks and Amazon been operating within our borders?

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Cadbury not so sweet when it comes to paying its fair share

So much for “sweets for the sweet:” UK chocolate manufacturer Cadbury has been caught out neglecting to pay its fair share of taxes in the past!

Everyone likes a bit of chocolate now and again, don’t they? I know I do, anyway – but I might start re-thinking my purchase of any Cadbury products after I recently found out that the firm was running a massive tax avoidance scheme as late as a decade before it was bought out in 2010 by US food conglomerate Kraft – as if that wasn’t bad enough!

According to new reports that just saw the light of day Cadbury was making around £100 million in annual profits prior to the much-maligned sale to Kraft Foods. That’s all well and good, but the problem is that Cadbury was only paying around £6.4 million in taxes every year – and that’s less than a 7 per cent tax rate! Where can I get such a great deal?

It’s really quite shocking when you think about how aggressive Cadbury went about their tax avoidance practrices, especially in light of the fact that the firm was founded by a Quaker philanthropist with a serious reputation for charitable donations. I suppose things change in the nearly 200 years the chocolate maker has been around; suddenly it’s more about squeezing every last penny from a Curly Wurly bar than it is to give back to the community. Shame, that.

It’s rather funny to think about how hot the debate was in the House of Commons over the tax implications of the sale of Cadbury to Craft a few years ago, considering how one of the main arguments against the sale was the possibility of HMRC losing out on a major bit of tax revenue. Well, looks like we were losing out on tax revenue anyway, thanks to the ‘creative accountancy’ efforts of Cadbury.

This just goes to show how badly the UK tax law needs to be revamped and how the current tax loopholes need to completely and utterly eradicated to prevent this kind of tomfoolery. I for one am quite tired of having to read about these multinationals refusing to pay their fair share, though I do wonder: does Kraft pay more tax for its operations in the UK right now than Cadbury did in years past? If so, the buyout might have been an actual relief for the UK taxpayer!

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What bad economy? Accountants find gainful employment

While the economy is still bad all over, there’s one sector where you’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence of that: accountants are still highly sought out.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that, according to a recently completed research study, most employers are not going to increase their college graduate hiring rates this fall. However, over 50 per cent of firms indicated that they will be looking in earnest for any accounting graduates they can find.

Hiring was up a paltry 2.1 per cent overall, according to the NACE study, which is a serious drop from the 13 per cent projections from fall of last year. Just shy of half of the firms surveyed did plan on increasing their hiring, even as more than one out of three said they will not be hiring as many new workers as they did in 2012. Still, graduating accountants are in some very good company, as 51 per cent of respondents said they will be actively looking for them; the only other graduates that exceeded accountants for demand were computer science majors, engineers, and business graduates.

It’s really no surprise that accountancy experts are going to be experiencing such high levels of demand, industry experts say, as businesses of all kinds require the very specific and helpful expertise that accountants bring with them. Every firm needs an accountant, and larger firms may even need more than one; multinationals have whole battalions of accountants working overtime to manage their billions in incomes and outgoings, relying on them very closely to ensure that all those financial details are sorted and don’t leave the firm exposed to prosecution by the taxman for improper tax reporting – or worse yet, tax avoidance!

So it just goes to show you, all you university students, that picking up some accountancy expertise isn’t the worst thing you could do. I know that I’m not necessarily brilliant at maths, but an accountancy degree could end up being worth its weight in gold down the line; you might want to seriously consider a career as an accountant if you don’t mind dealing with facts and figures all day every day.

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Finally, some new IR35 guidance for contractors!

While the chancellor might have promised that t was coming, most people were holding their breaths until now: new IR35 guidance is on its way for contractors.

It looks like Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs has had enough of dealing with constant confused questions contractors and freelancers have been asking concerning the new scope that ‘disguised employment’ rules now have, thanks to the publication of the Finance Bill 2013. Of particular concern is how ‘office holders,’ in the parlance of the amendments, are now subject to IR35, yet no one seems to understand just what an office holder is according to the taxman.

Yes, there’s an official definition, which classifies any type of worker, whether it be a freelancer, contractor, or permanent employee that holds a ‘substantive’ and permanent position with a firm as an office holder – provided the position existed independently from the worker that fills it and that the position persists, filled by someone new once the previous holder leaves the position. Of course, this sort of looks and sounds like nothing much better than Greek to me, but what it boils down to is that you take on a contracting project where you end up filling one of these roles – for no matter how short a matter of time – you run the risk of falling under IR35.

In other words, the taxman says that a contractor that acts on behalf of a client as an office holder will have to deal with IR35 rules, and it won’t matter if the contractor is paid directly by the client or through a third party like a personal service company or an umbrella company. The new legislation also catches third parties that end up being appointed as an office holder for a client, declaring that IR35 still applies in situations such as these.

The motivation behind this move is of course the fact that there were some rather unsavoury types working public sector contracts, finding ways to engage in some tax avoidance through creative accountancy practices. This tax evasion was serious news all throughout last year, prompting the new Ir35 language; I can only hope that this will trip up those who attempt to avoid paying their fair share of taxes – especially sine the UK is more or less falling apart and could use the heightened tax rvenue

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Don’t blame us for bad laws, accountants say

While tax avoidance is a serious problem in the UK right now, the head of one accountancy firm said that the government has no one to blame but themselves!

I know it sounds like Deloitte’s chief executive, David Sproul, is just trying to pass the buck when it comes to who’s responsible for the whole tax avoidance thing right now, but he has a point in that he claims that the legal vicissitudes of the UK’s current tax system are to blame more than anything else.  Mr Sproul said in a recent interview that it’s obvious that there are some laws being taken advantage of by more than just a few tax practices, but the real question we should be asking ourselves is how many of these practices are tacitly approved of and which are no longer acceptable in the eyes of society.

The legal tax avoidance landscape is changing, Mr Sproul said, giving the example of how it used to be par for the course to use a trust arrangement to pay a bank employee their bonus. While this was all right in years past, it’s fallen out of favour – and accountants such as Deloitte no longer counsel their clients to engage in such activities any more, the chief executive remarked.

A lot of the tax avoidance furore ripping through today’s headlines comes from multinationals using tax practices that are completely legal in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax. The problem is right now that the Government’s austerity programme is quite high profile, which makes these massive sums of cash multinationals are funneling overseas rather conspicuous; Mr Sproul has a point in that suddenly ministers are eyeing the profits of these companies when only a few years ago they didn’t care a fig about the whole thing/

I hate that I’m agreeing with this, but if you look at it that way it’s not really a large multinational’s fault if they use a perfectly legal tax practice to avoid paying their fair share. If the Government didn’t want that kind of behaviour in the first place, the tax law shouldn’t have been drafted in such a way as to permit the behaviour – and now that the Government needs that extra tax revenue they’re kicking themselves for placing the laws there.

Well maybe next time they’ll think twice before shooting themselves – and taxpayers – in the foot!  Knowing the Government, they probably won’t even blink.

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Accountancy sector to experience growth in 2013?

According to recently conducted research, the majority of small accountancy and finance firms believe 2013 will be a year of growth for them.

58 per cent of small and medium sized financial service companies and accountants reported in a YouGov/Co-operative Bank survey recently that orders and sales will exhibit upwards growth over the next 12 months. On top of that, three out of every ten financial service SMEs indicated that they would most likely be looking to hire on additional staff, either as full-time permanent workers or perhaps as contract accountants, and 25 per cent of firms have plans to invest in their infrastructure by purchasing updated equipment or perhaps refurbishing or improving their offices.

The Co-operative Bank’s corporate and business banking managing director, Keith Alderson, commented on the survey results, remarking that it was gratifying to see so much excellent news when it comes to the confidence of small businesses. SMEs are a driving factor when it comes to the UK’s economy and its ability to recover from  recession, added Mr Alderson, who said he was quite keen to see 2012 – a rather challenging year – gone and financial service SMEs looking forward to growth in 2013.

The economy is hands-down the biggest concern with the lion’s share of businesses surveyed by the research study, with 90 per cent indicating that fear of economic turmoil outweighed any concerns over regulatory changes or bureaucratic red tape. 1 out of 5 businesses suffered declines in sales and orders last year, though only 14 per cent of those surveyed felt that this trend would continue over the next 12 months.

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Your accountant may not know maths – but it’s all right

An interview with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales’ Gavin Aspden has been making the rounds, setting people aflame because Mr Aspden said accountants ‘don’t need maths,’ which is true – but this actually isn’t a bad thing.

Everyone needs chartered accountants, from the biggest global firm to the small-scale freelancer or contractor, but there’s a lot of superstition and misconception about what kind of dark magic accountants actually do with all those figures. Well, the truth is that you don’t need to have a natural aptitude for maths in order to excel in accountancy because of the nature of the position requires on-the-job training.

In fact, there are many accounting firms that are not interested in hiring people that lack any sort of training in the profession in order to keep the industry from becoming too homogenised. You need people with differing thought process in order to bring innovation to accountancy, Mr Aspden said, who then added that firms will take up to 50 per cent of applicants that have degrees that have no relationship to accountancy.

Anyone with a formal accountancy degree may have a bit of a jump on someone who doesn’t, but the training and certification process is identical for everyone a given firm takes on. This means that if your chartered accountant has a degree in music or languages, he or she is just as capable as any other chartered accountant because they’ve all been instructed in the same way – so you don’t need to panic at the idea of your accountant not having a background in maths.

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A ringing endorsement from some politician called Dave

I really must think about writing these jottings earlier in the week. I routinely find myself talking about things that have just happened rather than predicting what’s about to happen. Although, of course, that does mean I can be a little more accurate in what I’m saying. Better late than never I suppose…

But this week’s major news in contractor world was PCG’s third National Freelancer Day, which as we all know is held on November 23rd. This is an event that celebrates the role of the freelance worker in today’s economy and is primarily aimed at ensuring the value they bring to the UK is recognised.

The event is going from strength to strength, with ever increasing participation. It was picked up in a wide range of places, including the Twitterverse and a host of freelancer websites. More importantly it not only the mainstream press but we even got a mention from Evan Davies on Radio 4 and a ringing endorsement of the freelance profession from some politician called Dave, who said “This Government recognises the valuable contribution that freelancers make to the economy and, as more and more people choose to join your ranks, you have all our support”. He’ll go far, that lad, you just watch.

So PCG are to be congratulated on a job well done. Again.

Elsewhere though, things are giving off mixed messages. There has been a lot hand-wringing about rate cuts and job losses affecting contractors. Which is quite worrying, with all this fear of double-dips (still think that sounds like an ice cream) until, that is, you look a little more closely.

These cuts are only happening in banking and finance. Other people aren’t seeing cuts in rate – I know I’m not, if a sample of one is useful – and others are actually saying they’ve got a raise in rate. There are plenty of reported contract extensions out there as well. Just not in banking. How odd.

Another point, if you are of a suspicious mind like me, is that all the banks are cutting by the same rate, a precise 10%. Nice round number, of course, but it is just a little odd that they all see the need to make the same cut regardless of how well or how absolutely dreadfully they are faring. One might even think they were working to the same hymn sheet. Surely not: they are, after all, in competition for the best resources and paying a shade more than the competition is one way to secure them.

But hey, these are banks, after all. It’s not like we expect them to understand economics or anything. So it must just be a fluke of timing and cost accountancy.

Ah but, it’s also interesting to note the response of the guys being hit by these cuts. The proportion that react with “That’s it, I’ll go somewhere else” to those whose reaction is “90% of something is better than 100% of nothing so I’m staying” has reversed totally, with the latter group now prevailing. Mostly that’s because the feel there aren’t the jobs out there to be had, which is understandable. And in fact they’re probably right; the vacancies created by the macho “I’m outa here” brigade don’t exist so there is nowhere to go. Rather than a big round robin with the worst performers falling off the bottom, as happened last time around, everyone has stayed on their chairs. And that, if you’re the banks, is actually something of a result; keep the same staff, no retraining needed, and 10% of quite a lot of money to feed into the bonus pot.

OK, so perhaps the banks aren’t all that stupid after all.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Image: Facing My Manga by Rob Boudon

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Would contractor accountants give up £11,000 a year to work a four day week?

Latest research from Marks Sattin shows that professionals in the accountancy and financial services sector would be prepared to give up £11,000 a year if they could work a four day week and have a better work/life balance.

The firm surveyed almost 3,000 finance professionals and discovered that two thirds of them would accept a salary cut of 20% in order to enjoy a three day weekend.

Marks Sattin’s MD, Dave Way, pointed out that now the economy is recovering, employers are under less pressure to make redundancies and employees are prioritising a better work-life balance. Employers should now be considering whether their employment terms have the flexibility to satisfy this demand.

Modern technology has fuelled this desire for a shorter working week as more and more employees find it difficult to escape from work. People with phones such as BlackBerries say they spend two and a half times longer checking emails than those without smart phones.

Smart phones enable online accountants to work remotely and this has increased users appetite for a longer weekend because of the amount of work they do outside normal office working hours.

However, the government probably wouldn’t be so keen on the idea of a four-day week. Marks Sattin also claims £24 million a day would be lost in income tax, costing the treasury £1.2 billion a year!

Meanwhile, workers in the UK take an average ten days unauthorised leave every year, twice as much as their counterparts in the US, according to a recent study from PwC. The firm has calculated that these unscheduled absences cost British businesses about £32bn every year.

Technology companies have the lowest rate of unauthorised absences at 7.6 days followed closely by banking and finance at 7.8 days.

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Contractor accountants urged to enjoy life on May 12th

Accountants are being encouraged to take time out on May 12th to contemplate their work-life balance. The Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association is calling on all companies to promote this project to improve employees work – home life balance.

Kath Haines, the chief executive of CABA, said the Association wants accountants to move away from their desk for a period on May 12th and do something they enjoy doing. She went on to say that she would like to see all accountancy practices, regardless of size, and also those contractor accountants working in business, to take part in the initiative and spend some quality time with their colleagues, family and friends.

It’s not only accountants who are feeling the strain. Experts warn that stress at work is going to soar as survivors of redundancy programmes come to terms with unmanageable workloads and survivor guilt.

EmployEase, a firm of employment law consultants, said that a third of its individual clients are absent from work with stress related conditions. It warns employers to take action to avoid stress or run the risk of facing a tribunal for discrimination, personal injury or unfair dismissal.

The FSB and Mind have teamed up to produce a guide for small businesses to help them make non bureaucratic, cost effective changes that will have a positive impact on the wellbeing of their employees.

Amongst the recommendations in the document are the implementation of flexible working and the promotion of a supportive working environment.

Sophie Corlett, the director of external relations at Mind, pointed out that several small firms already provide employees with flexible working opportunities and quality working relationships. However, businesses must also acknowledge mental health issues and create a culture whereby staff can raise their concerns and employers will help them stay mentally healthy.

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What is the dark art of Tax Planning?

In August 1989 I started my training as an Accountant. Mrs. Thatcher was still the Prime Minister and everyone under the age of 21 wanted an XR3i or a 205 GTi.

I remember on the first day having a meeting with a senior Accountant (in my new grey suit) and he explained that, once I was experienced enough – I could begin my training on tax planning for clients. I nodded to confirm my approval and nearly said “Yes Sir”, but stopped short just before I raised my hand in salute. Obviously, I had no idea what he was referring to.

Over the next few years there would be several occasions when this arcane gift was again mentioned. I was half expecting some Masonic ritual needed to be performed or a secret handshake returned before I could wear the badge of honour and plan my clients entire future in the world of income tax.

Many years later, I realised there wasn’t going to be an initiation ceremony after all and I could roll my trouser leg back down again. It turned out, planning a clients tax – was not a thing you could actually teach. There wasn’t a secret book with a list of examples or a flow-chart to follow. It could only be performed when you are conversing with an individual – and they are all different. Without exception, all of you have a different personal circumstance and aspiration. For some people it is an expensive car or a big house. For others – it is sending their children to private school or five holidays a year.

Tax planning is a term given to the blanket of advice that helps your business to perform the following :-

1. Retain enough money for all of its debts and liabilities.

2. What are the laws you and your company must not fall foul of?

3. Pay the director and employees the salary they need.

4. Pay the shareholders the dividend the company can afford in conjunction with their personal requirements.

5. Have a look at the costs and expenses the company will need to pay for its daily running.

6. When will the taxes be paid and who has to pay them?

7. Where are the savings you can make?

If you are not or have not considered the above – you haven’t really started a framework for you or your company yet.

One day I may even get the chance to teach Accountancy to smartly dressed juniors at one of the many Accountancy colleges around the UK. If I do, I fully intend to walk up to whiteboard and write “Speak to People”. And then walk off.

About the author: Matthew Durrant

Matthew has been an accountant in practice since 1989 and has established a strong reputation in the contractor marketplace. He acts as accountant for a diverse blend of clients from sole traders to medium-size limited companies. An acknowledged IR35 specialist, Matthew’s services are much sought across the UK.

Matthew Durrant. Partner, Forbes Young Accountants

© 2011 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited

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